Ever since GPS-enabled smartphones hit the scene, developers have created a variety of location-based service apps that interact with the things around them. Despite similar intentions and technology, location-based service apps have taken many different routes, ironically leaving them in all different positions across the app landscape. Given the recent success of Instagram and some other developments in the market, we’d like to share the tales of some of these apps:
A first mover on the scene Latitude was Google’s early attempt at allowing friends to track each other’s location. The app provided a novelty without much usefulness, and many found the tracking a bit creepy. At this point Latitude has kind of faded off into the background due to the presence of so many rich and useful apps in the marketplace.
Loopt had a great head start before Foursquare, which copied it and came out with an improved user experience. Today the app focuses on sharing reviews, finding friends and saving money through deal alerts. Loopt is really going to have to provide the best user experience if they want to survive using this model, since their app is basically Foursquare, Latitude and Groupon combined. It appears others seem to believe Loopt is here for the long haul, since Green Dot Corporation acquired the company in March 2012 for US$43.4 million.
Despite a fierce fight with Gowalla and Facebook 1-2 years ago, Foursquare has emerged as the predominant player in the location check-in field. The app may have failed to grow as fast as apps in other segments (e.g. Instagram, Tango, etc.) but has evolved into a location-based discovery service. This puts Foursquare in direct competition with companies like Yelp, who help users figure out what’s best and close by. In order to preserve its position in the market, Fourquare must overcome challenges such as engaging the many users who don’t check in continuously and finding a good source for monetization.
Gowalla fought hard against Foursquare, then pivoted into a location-based journal/log book but was (talent) acquired by Facebook before they could fully implement this vision. We hope Facebook doesn’t just sweep them under the rug to continue their march of domination in the social space.
Skout started out as a location-based dating service, turned into a hookup app and has now repositioned itself to be about meeting new people. We sense a mild identity crisis here, however if Skout can come up with a successful model for connecting people who don’t know each other… we’ll all have so many friends we won’t know what to do with them all. They just closed a big round of funding by Andreessen Horowitz and things seem to be developing very well.
Yelp started out as a web-based directory service with reviews, and then added check ins. Unfortunately, the integrity of their reviews has been called into question since there is evidence that merchants will typically pay for good reviews and purposefully post negative ones to trash their competition. This inherent bias has almost rendered Yelp’s service useless and, in turn, allowed Foursquare to claim their stake in this market.
Despite tons of money and users, Goliath is obviously suffering from their need to please too many people and to support too many use cases. Facebook Check-ins have some entertainment value when used on an Ipad to map out where your friends are, but there’s nothing really special or innovative about this feature. Checking in on Facebook remains an insignificant feature and that’s how people perceive it, clearly . . .
Burbn started out as a location-based check in service similar to Gowalla. When founder Kevin Systrom realized that people were mostly taking photos and sharing them, they pivoted and turned Burbn into Instagram. After a recent sale to Facebook for 1 Billion dollars, Kevin has made history.
As we interact more and more with the world around us through mobile devices, new and unique opportunities arise for developers to create disruptive and innovative location-based services. It’s clear that startups in this space are exciting and unpredictable organizations that may or may not transform several times on their path to maturity. In some cases we’ve mentioned here sticking to a core vision has paid off while in others remaining willing to take the risk to pivot into something completely new has been the right path. One thing is clear, it can be difficult to predict what to do next in this ever changing space. We’ll be keeping our eyes out for more birthing butterflies emerging from their startup metamorphosis… so stay tuned!